Hialeah's Brunetti Meets With Minor

Hialeah Park owner John Brunetti and prospective buyer Halsey Minor held their first meeting Aug. 6, with Brunetti later saying “we will have another meeting to see if our common interests are strong enough to continue going forward.”
They have not picked a date for a second meeting, Brunetti said. He added that he and Minor did not discuss any terms of a possible sale of Hialeah Park, which has not held races since 2001.
Minor did not return phone calls Aug. 6. He was in Hialeah, Fla., for the meeting with Brunetti and his first meeting with Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina. Officials of the group Citizens to Save Hialeah Park also set up meetings for Minor with several business leaders in Hialeah and neighboring cities.
Minor, the founder of on-line search site CNET Networks, said July 22 that he had talked with Brunetti on the phone about his interest in buying Hialeah Park. He has become a multimillionaire largely through the growth of CNET, which CBS has agreed to buy in a $1.8 billion deal scheduled to close this month.
On Aug. 5, Brunetti and Minor each said they expect it would cost between $30 million and $40 million to refurbish and re-open Hialeah Park. Each said they would prefer to own and operate the track without a partner.
Brunetti declined to discuss a possible purchase price for the 206-acre property.
He said that in their meeting, Minor showed “that he apparently has done a lot of homework” on the legal and political obstacles of re-opening Hialeah.
The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering revoked Hialeah’s racing permit in 2003 because it had not held race meets for a required two consecutive years. For Hialeah to re-open, the Florida legislature would have to pass a bill authorizing the DPMW to issue another Thoroughbred permit in the state.
Hialeah stopped holding meets amid financial problems that were partly related to Florida’s 2002 deregulation of racing dates. That prevented the track from having any exclusive racing dates in the market where Gulfstream Park races four months and Calder Race Course races eight.
For several years prior to its closing, Hialeah was involved in financial disputes with Gulfstream and with the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
Brunetti said Minor emphasized that he was prepared to run on the same dates as either of those tracks. Brunetti said he feels that having exclusive dates is essential.
“He (Minor) was as forthright as possible, and he has the same dream I have to re-open Hialeah,” said Brunetti, who has owned the track since 1977.
“We talked about how he might temper his idealism, in view of the realities of the political and economic situations,” Brunetti said.
“Mr. Minor is a successful businessman, and he has a love for racing,” Robaina said. “If he and John arrange financial terms for a sale, I would give him my full support to help make things happen.”
That would include advice on obtaining permits to repair Hialeah’s grandstand and other parts of the property. The grandstand was damaged by hurricanes in 2005. The former racing surfaces and some other portions of the property are now covered with heavy grass.
“I remain ready to work with John, if the licensing issues could be overcome,” Robaina added.
Hialeah was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and it is officially designated as a sanctuary for the American Flamingo by the Audubon Society.
Those designations could enable the city to obtain grants and other funding to help pay for refurbishing the property, Robaina said.

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